Planning, risk and strategy in business, businessman gambling placing wooden block on a tower

A sound strategy is the key to business success.

Without it, we flounder and fall short. Because it’s the plan of action your business needs to grow in a manageable and sustainable manner. It’s setting out what you intend to do (and not do) in order to build your company’s market value, enhance its commercial standing and increase its revenue and profits. It gives your business direction and the means by which you intend to move in that direction.

In short, it’s the reality check you need to turn a dream, an idea, a vision into a viable business.

Most companies have a strategy in place, but forget to pay attention to the execution of that strategy. With studies showing that three out of five employees consider their companies to be ‘weak’ at executing strategy, here are some clear signs to look for – and tips to get things on track.

Most companies have a strategy in place, but forget to pay attention to the execution of that strategy. 

1: Your execution strategy is not sustainable

In his paper What is Strategy, Professor Michael E Porter states that strategy ‘involves the continual search for ways to reinforce and extend the company’s position’.

The key word here is ‘continual’. It highlights the fact that strategy execution isn’t a one-time event. It’s a constant, ongoing process that relies on some degree of flexibility (see point 2) in order to be sustainable. Not only will it be subject to the pressures of internal company fluctuations, such as changes in strategy, goals, capacity, etc, but it will also need to deal with external instabilities, such as changes in the local and global economy. Preparation is essential.

The sustainability of your execution also requires foresight of the capabilities and capacity needed by your company to implement the strategy (see point 5). You won’t get far if your resources are finite and your business is not prepared for the long-term.

Tip for success: Your strategy execution needs to be devised as a consistent, sustainable process that can withstand many pressures over the long term. Preparation ahead of time should allow you to build the courage for the road ahead, while freeing up the capacity and resources needed to implement an ongoing plan of action.

2: Your strategy implementation is not adaptable

A strategy that’s not been designed to allow for changes and pressures (both internal and external) will inevitably fail. That means your execution also needs to be able to adapt if or when your strategy changes or you’re faced with unforeseen challenges. The business world is forever in flux. Economies go up and down and your markets will follow suit. You can’t afford to resist adjusting course and amending the actions you’re taking, otherwise you’ll lose ground on your smarter competitors and fail to hit those targets.

Change is also a useful tool that can help you optimise your strategy execution. As Freek Vermeulen from London Business School said in a recent article on strategy failures: ‘We often resist change unless it is crystal clear that the alternative is substantially better. For a successful strategy implementation process, however, it is useful to put the default the other way around: change it unless it is crystal clear that the old way is substantially better.’

Tip for success: Incorporate a learning (or feedback) loop into your strategy execution. Monitor results to make sure the intended value is being realised. Then be open to adjusting the strategy and execution in order to optimise the entire process, and ensure your strategy works as intended.

 3: Your strategy is in place, but no one is executing it properly

A company without organisational alignment won’t be able to execute its strategy. You need to make sure your company’s people, structure, culture, incentives and supporting activities are working well together and are all in line with the strategy and intended implementation.

A company without organisational alignment won’t be able to execute its strategy. 

Communication is critical here, especially in terms of stating:

  • What the strategy is and why it’s important
  • How effective execution is going to help the company (and, therefore, how it will benefit employees)
  • What everybody’s role is going to be in implementing the strategy

Done well, the communicating of these messages will help CEOs and their leadership team set the tone for the work ahead. By informing employees about what the plan is, how it will benefit them, and how they can help, you can minimise resistance and motivate people to take responsibility for their part in the plan – and enable them to execute it properly.

Tip for success: You can’t just draft a strategy and plan for implementation, then demand employees blindly follow it. Organisational alignment is essential to making sure it is executed in a way that will bring you success. This means making sure you communicate the what, why and how of your strategy execution across your business from the top down, so that everyone knows their responsibilities and is prepared to carry them out.

4: Your strategy execution is not strategic enough

The plan for implementing your business strategy also needs to be carefully thought out along strategic lines. This means that every step of the execution must be considered, tackled in optimal order and not picked at random or left to chance.

As stated in point 1, strategy execution should be thought of as ongoing. Yet this isn’t always easy for businesses to get their heads around. As former Harvard Business School professor, John P Kotter, has stated, ‘Most leaders and senior managers don’t realise transformation is a process – not an event.’

His solution was to develop a step-by-step model that could help businesses prevent strategy implementations from failing.

Detailed in his book, Leading Change, Kotter’s process involved the following eight stages:

  1. Establishing a sense of urgency
  2. Forming a powerful guiding coalition
  3. Creating a vision
  4. Communicating the vision
  5. Empowering others to act on the vision
  6. Planning for (and creating) short-term wins
  7. Consolidating improvements and producing more change
  8. Institutionalising new approaches

Tip for success: Having a strategy for your strategy execution might sound like overcomplicating the process, but it’s simply about making sure the implementation of your business strategy is easy to understand and follow – and that it is followed. By using the eight stages above as a guide, you should be able to create your own strategy for execution that maximises your chance of success.

5: Your demands for execution don’t fit your business’ capability

It’s one thing to come up with the perfect strategy and an ideal way to implement it; but if your business does not have the capability (or resources) to meet the challenge then you’re setting yourself up to fail.

A few years ago, America’s Southwest Airlines attempted to increase the number of flights it could fit into the most popular take-off times. However, it overestimated its ability to achieve this and ended up reducing its on-time performance by 11%. By adjusting its turnaround time until it was more in keeping with its resources, capacity and capability (in terms of processes, staffing, costs, etc), the airline was able to bring its performance up to 85% – in line with its competitors.

Your strategy and its execution need to be positioned within the limits of what your business is capable of doing, otherwise it will inevitably fail.

Your strategy and its execution need to be positioned within the limits of what your business is capable of doing, otherwise it will inevitably fail.

Tip for success: A business should always consider its resources as a key part of formulating and implementing a business strategy. This means assessing what resources you have available and what skills you have at your disposal and making sure they line up with how you intend to execute your strategy. And remember, it is an ongoing process. Change is inevitable, so as long as you’re prepared to adjust course as conditions change – as Southwest Airlines proved – it’s entirely possible to reconsider your capability and adjust your strategy execution later down the line, and still end up with a great result.

It’s all in the execution

Most businesses have a basic strategy in place, but a surprising number have not paid the necessary attention to proper execution of that strategy. This renders a strategy redundant. By following the tips above, you should be better prepared to avoid making the same mistakes as your competitors and give your strategy the best chance of taking you where you want to go.

Freshstone Consulting works with clients to set strategic direction, drive business performance and solve problems. The team’s focused and disciplined approach allows Freshstone to reliably influence corporate strategies, increasing the sustainable growth and profits of a company. To meet the team and find out more, please call +971 4 248 5165 or email info@freshstoneconsulting.com.

tanvir 150x150 fsAbout the author: Tanvir Haque, Founder of Freshstone Consulting. 
Tanvir is currently the Chief Commercial Officer at Lifecare International, and he is the Founder and Non-Executive Director of Freshstone Consulting. He thrives on developing customer-centric business relationships, and as such he is currently focused on revolutionising Lifecare’s customer experience and driving the company’s digital transformation plans – all with the aim of unlocking Lifecare’s full technology potential. With a career spanning back more than 20 years, Tanvir’s experience has been gathered in professional services, banking, and telecommunications, having worked with PwC in Sydney, Andersen in Sydney and London, and Standard Chartered Bank in London. He relocated to Dubai in 2008 and spent a number of years advising and consulting international businesses on how to drive growth before joining Lifecare in 2015. Tanvir graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the Australian National University in his home town of Canberra and is a qualified Chartered Accountant and a member of Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand.